China's MFN: Why I Oppose Imposing Conditions

0 views
Skip to first unread message

Zhenqin Li

unread,
Apr 30, 1991, 10:58:32 PM4/30/91
to

Recently, the issue of whether or not to renew China's "most favored nation"
(MFN) status is once again becoming a big topic among American media, and
is being hotly debated among Chinese students. The Independent Federation
of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) has just issued a statement
endorsing the imposition of human rights conditions on the renewal of China's
"most favored nation" status. It is my personal opinion that imposing
such conditions is not likely to help improvement of human rights in
China, and could lead to serious detrimental consequences. In the following
I would like to explain some of my rationales.

(1) Consensus among Chinese students?

The "most favored nation" status is a serious issue which directly affects
the interests of a billion Chinese people, yet we have not seen any
convincing evidence that the threat of revoking such status is supported
among Chinese populace. Even among Chinese students and scholars in America,
it is a divisive issue that there is no consensus on the imposition of
conditions to the MFN status. As an organization which claims to represent
the majority of Chinese students and scholars in America, I think it is
the responsibility of IFCSS to explore the opinions of its constituencies
before committing its stance via due process. Without such serious attempt
at exploring different perspectives and without a due process for making
major policy decisions, it is possible that IFCSS may once again undermine
its own status as a grass-root organization, as happened last year when it
lobbied for the conditional revoke of China's "most favored nation" status.

(2) U.S. as a guardian of human rights?

It is true that many people who support conditions on MFN are based
on genuine human rights concerns and would not like to see the actual
revoke of it. But we have to know that in the reality of American politics,
interests often play a more important role, more than the lofty ideal of
human rights and the concept of intellectual consistency. Remember a year
ago, _The New York Times_ (NYT) had an editorial entitled "Don't Punish the
Wrong China" which argued for the renewal of China's most-favored-nation
status for the benefit of the Chinese constituencies favoring economic
and political reforms. But this year it has an entirely different idea:
_The New York Times_ on April 26 asserts in an editorial that "the appropriate
American response is for President Bush to strictly condition, or even
suspend, China's privileged access to U.S. markets, formally known as
'most favored nation' status". One would wonder what is the reason for
such a complete about-face? According to the NYT editorial, "the worst
abuse" of human rights in China is not the imprisonment of Wei Jingsheng,
not the detention of 1989 pro-democracy activists, nor the religious
persecution in Tibet, and none of the specific violations cited by the bill of
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and endorsed by IFCSS. Guess what? The NYT says
that the "worst abuse is China's shameless exploitation of convict labor for
export production". If there is any convincing evidence of the extent of
convict labor used for export, I would certainly like to be informed and
want to express my opposition. But somehow I get the impression that these
moralists care more about the so-called Sino-U.S. "trade imbalance" than the
human conditions of the Chinese labors. Had Bangladesh been exporting as much
as China to the American markets, I am sure that we would hear as loud
accusations of "slave labors" there.

On the issue of human rights, as well as on that of Sino-U.S. trade disputes,
I think Chinese students in America should try to retain independent
judgements and avoid being used as pawns in the American or Chinese politics.
By lobbying in the American Congress for the imposition of conditions on
China's trade status, Chinese students in America risk perpetuating the myth
of the United States as the guardian of human rights in the world, which
is not only false, but also can be dangerous in the long run. We need to be
aware that when General Pinochet overthrew a democratically-elected Chilean
government and murdered thousands of civilians, when the South Korean military
government massacred hundreds of students at Kwongchow, and when Israel
occupies the Arab nations' territories by force and oppresses the entire
nation of Palestinians, the "most favored nation" status of these countries
had never been in question! Why such inconsistency? Who knows if the U.S. will
not use China's birth control as an excuse of "violation of human rights"
and use the MFN as a stick in trade disputes even when China becomes
democratic in the future?

(3) Human rights: How universal is the concept? How to promote them?

The modern definition of human rights is a Western invention, which is
certainly noble. However, there are still many open questions worth of
exploring at a deeper level. It seems to me that every society has some
rudimentary ideas about justice and the rights of man, just like every
society respects the fundamental values of the truth, the good, and the
beautiful. So theoretically, the *idea* of human rights can be universal.

But in practice, we often see gross inconsistencies, as to what can and
should be protected as the human rights in the operational sense. One
prominent example is the French Revolution, in which its bloodiness
contrasted sharply with its earlier Declaration of the Rights of Man and
Citizen. In today's world, we also often see some forceful advocates of
Human Rights turn silent when their own (individual or national) interests
are implicated.

Can the concept of Human Rights be separated from political
interests? If yes, how? If not, would the human rights concept
still be inalienable and universal?

It is known that the theories and practical predictions of the
natural sciences can be universally tested and upheld. But in
the realm of social values, who would be the ultimate judge in
case of conflicts between individuals, groups, societies, and
cultures? Through what procedure?

It seems to me that within a given society, the best way to promote
human rights would be to facilitate the advance of the *social institutions*
which preserve, implement and safeguard the values of human rights
in the society, e.g., the independent judicial system, educational system,
news media and a democratic political system which tolerates different
opinions. Even so, when it comes to the conflicts of different cultural or
social values, e.g., on the issues of death penalties and abortions,
I am not yet sure if there can ever be a common legal and/or moral
standard of human rights agreed by everyone.

I believe the social, cultural, political and economic exchanges between
different societies play important roles in the evolution of values in
a given society, and the progress of human rights is no exception.
It is my personal belief that in order to facilitate the establishment of
democratic institutions which safeguard human rights, what we need is not
just expedient propaganda of existing "truths", nor is simply imposition of
a democratic value system through external pressures like economic sanctions
or the Panama-style invasion. Our primary focus, in addition to the promotion
of communication and exchanges, should be on the evolution of the social
institutions within the Chinese society.

Coming back to the issue of MFN, an important question is what will be our
best approach for the promotion of human rights in our own country?
In promoting the fundamental rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness" for the Chinese people, are we justified to impose economic
sanctions which may aggravate their suffering, while we ourselves are free
from such consequence? At present, should we concentrate our efforts on
educating ourselves about both the human rights in general and that in China:
what is Chinese people's attitude toward MFN; what is the evidence
and extent of "convict labor for export production" in China? Or should
we surrender our judgements and let the American politicians to decide if
and when the human rights condition in China will be satisfactory?

I hope my fellow Chinese students and scholars can also seriously think about
these questions.

Zhenqin Li
ga1...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu

B. George

unread,
May 1, 1991, 11:41:04 AM5/1/91
to
In article <18...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu>, ga1...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu (Zhenqin Li)
writes:

>The "most favored nation" status is a serious issue which directly affects
>the interests of a billion Chinese people, yet we have not seen any
>convincing evidence that the threat of revoking such status is supported
>among Chinese populace.

Who gets MFN status and under what conditions is one way Americans as a group,
through our government, economically "vote" for human rights. It's a US policy
issue, not Chinese, so what's important is whether or not the American people
support the move. If the Chinese were out in droves shouting "Please don't
impose conditions on our MFN!", that would certainly effect US public opinion,
but we haven't seen that. Silence implies consent.

> ...in the reality of American politics,

>interests often play a more important role, more than the lofty ideal of

>human rights and the concept of intellectual consistency. ...
> ...I get the impression that these

>moralists care more about the so-called Sino-U.S. "trade imbalance" than the

>human conditions of the Chinese (convict) labor(er)s. Had Bangladesh been >exporting as much as China to the American markets, I am sure that we would hear >as loud accusations of "slave labors" there.

Your point is well taken, and it's an effective argument that the US Gov't needs
to reorganize its priorities to match its rhetoric. However, it's a lousy
argument for leaving China's MFN status alone. You'd have us tell Washington
that they can't do the right thing unless it's for the right reason? Forget it.

> ...theoretically, the *idea* of human rights can be universal.

>But in practice, we often see gross inconsistencies, as to what can and
>should be protected as the human rights in the operational sense.

There's no inconsistency in this case. China signed the International Declaration of Human Rights, which their treatment of dissidents violates in both letter and spirit, period.

>It seems to me that within a given society, the best way to promote
>human rights would be to facilitate the advance of the *social institutions*
>which preserve, implement and safeguard the values of human rights

>in the society...

Agreed. However, _outside_ a given society the best way to promote human rights is exactly the "carrot and stick" approach Congress is using now.

>In promoting the fundamental rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit
>of happiness" for the Chinese people, are we justified to impose economic
>sanctions which may aggravate their suffering, while we ourselves are free
>from such consequence?

The same argument was used against the idea of slapping sanctions on South Africa, during "constructive engagement." You'll recall how miserably that policy failed, and how sanctions subsequently worked.
--
-Bryan George <geo...@eedsp.gatech.edu>
Georgia Tech, School of EE, DSP Laboratory
These opinions are mine, not Georgia Tech's

Zhenqin Li

unread,
May 2, 1991, 4:01:01 AM5/2/91
to
In article <1991May1.1...@eedsp.gatech.edu> geo...@eedsp.gatech.edu (B. George) writes:
>In article <18...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu>, ga1...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu (Zhenqin Li)
>writes:
>>The "most favored nation" status is a serious issue which directly affects
>>the interests of a billion Chinese people, yet we have not seen any
>>convincing evidence that the threat of revoking such status is supported
>>among Chinese populace.
>
>Who gets MFN status and under what conditions is one way Americans as a group,
>through our government, economically "vote" for human rights.
(or for their interests)
>It's a US policy
^^^^^^^^^

>issue, not Chinese, so what's important is whether or not the American people
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>support the move.

This is precisely the reason why I stated earlier that Chinese
students in America should avoid being used as pawns in American
politics.

>>In promoting the fundamental rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit
>>of happiness" for the Chinese people, are we justified to impose economic
>>sanctions which may aggravate their suffering, while we ourselves are free
>>from such consequence?
>
>The same argument was used against the idea of slapping sanctions on South Africa, during "constructive engagement." You'll recall how miserably that policy failed, and how sanctions subsequently worked.


I don't have too much time to spend on side issues. But I think it is
the judgement of black africans themselves, including that of Nelson Mandela,
that economic sanctions serve the interests of the majority of South
Africans, in undermining the system of apatheid which has its root
in the colonial history of the Western powers. It is their own
choice for their own circumstance.

As far as China is concerned, I don't see any significant support
for economic sanctions from the Chinese populace.

Zhenqin Li
ga1...@sdcc6.ucsd.edu

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages